It wasn’t the year that Buffalo Sabres fans wanted; in fact, it may have been the most disappointing of all time. But throughout what was undeniably a rough 2017-2018, there were some memorable wins, a few notable strides, and the emergence of players who will hopefully bring prestige back to this organization in the near future. Despite missing 15 games with injury, Jack Eichel had a career year in goals and points. Young stars like Linus Ullmark, Brendan Guhle, and Casey Mittelstadt all took big steps toward becoming permanent NHL talent.
Here are the top ten contests from this past season:
10. Saturday, February 10th 2018 @ The Boston Bruins
Jack Eichel recorded two shots on goal and skated for less than four minutes of ice time before he went down in the first period on the road in Boston.
#Sabres Jack Eichel falls awkwardly behind the net: pic.twitter.com/6OrKjzFEKA
— BuffaloHockeyCentral (@BHCdotcom) February 11, 2018
His ankle injury was eerily similar to one just before the 2016-17 season commenced, which can be argued derailed Buffalo’s entire season that year.
Eichel would come back 15 games later and play just as strongly as he did before, but at the time, it was a troubling instance for any Sabres fan. Where the rest of Jack’s team could have wilted under the duress, they instead rallied and secured one of their most impressive wins on the year.
Even without Jack’s masterful skating and puck handling, players like Evander Kane, Benoit Pouliot, Scott Wilson, and Rasmus Ristolainen made sure that the Buffalo offense would still be something to contend with.
? Evander Kane buries a breakaway goal!! #Sabres pic.twitter.com/GvEeYOQqyG
— BuffaloHockeyCentral (@BHCdotcom) February 11, 2018
9. Tuesday, February 13th 2018 vs. The Tampa Bay Lightning
A Sabres squad that was dead last in the NHL hosting one of the league’s best in the Tampa Bay Lightning? No Jack Eichel on the roster? No problem for Buffalo that evening, as they continued a bizarre trend of playing some of their best hockey against the NHL’s top teams.
In the absence of a superstar like Eichel, the Sabres saw several players step up in a big way–some who were familiar faces to the scoreboard, and others not so much.
Sam Reinhart scored twice to keep his momentum through the second half of the season going, while Ryan O’Reilly, Nicholas Baptiste, and Scott Wilson all added each of their own goals to guarantee Buffalo’s 5-3 win over the potent Lightning.
#Sabres Reinhart taps home the rebound on the power play: pic.twitter.com/JmNz550k5f
— BuffaloHockeyCentral (@BHCdotcom) February 14, 2018
8. Tuesday, November 7th 2017 vs. The Washington Capitals
Any NHL team can be a formidable opponent on the right night, but there are certain teams whose reputations lift them just a little bit above the rest of the pack. A dominant win over the offensive powerhouse that is the Washington Capitals feels like a bigger accomplishment than a win over many other franchises, and on November 7th, 2017, the Buffalo Sabres managed to secure a dominant win.
It was one of the very few nights early in the season where it felt like Buffalo was in control from start to finish. Goals from Evander Kane and Benoit Pouliot kept the Sabres ahead on the scoreboard, while Robin Lehner was nearly perfect in net, only failing to stop one of Washington’s 25 shots on the night.
7. Monday, March 26th 2018 @ The Toronto Maple Leafs
A win over a storied rival is always satisfying, and sometimes, it’s even more satisfying to do on the road in front of their own fans. Jack Eichel has made it abundantly clear that he takes particular pride in leading the Sabres to victories over the Toronto Maple Leafs, whether those victories come inside KeyBank Center, or inside the Air Canada Centre.
In Buffalo’s third meeting with the Leafs this past season, he did just that, scoring early and late to help the Sabres topple their cross-border rival. Toronto dominated the middle portion of the game, but the Sabres subdued them in the third period while sniping just enough past goaltender Frederik Andersen to send the Leafs fans home disappointed.
6. Tuesday, January 23rd 2018 @ The Edmonton Oilers
It’s hard to figure what exactly happened to the Sabres during their Pacific Northwest roadtrip earlier this year. Heading into a trio of matchups with the Flames, Oilers, and Canucks, Buffalo was dead last in the NHL.
After an overtime win in Calgary, they rolled into Edmonton and put on perhaps their most complete performance of the entire season. They lit up the scoreboard five different times and ate the Edmonton penalty kill alive with three power-play tallies.
The offense came from the very guys fans would want it most from; Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Ryan O’Reilly, the latter of which had a two-goal night. Robin Lehner was impenetrable in net, stopping all of Edmonton’s 33 shots. He would have a performance almost as stellar two nights later.
Big night for @Jackeichel15 – 20th goal of the season, four points on the night. ? pic.twitter.com/MkvchTMXUB
— NHL (@NHL) January 24, 2018
5. Thursday, January 25th 2018 @ The Vancouver Canucks
If Buffalo’s thrashing of the Edmonton Oilers was a perfect game, then their throttling of the Vancouver Canucks was nearly perfect. Robin Lehner earned his second consecutive shutout by foiling Vancouver’s 30 shots on the night.
The offense fell just a hair less potent than the last contest, but it came from a wider variety of players and all different areas of the game. Even strength, power play, short-handed, the Sabres scored in just about every way imaginable, with Nicholas Baptiste netting his first on the year, and players like Kyle Okposo and Johan Larsson reigniting their offensive fire.
4. Saturday, October 21st 2017 @ The Boston Bruins
For a while, this looked like exactly like the walloping that many anticipated it to be. Entering the evening with just one win in their first eight games, the Sabres quickly fell behind on the scoreboard, at one point being down 0-3 early in the second period.
Even after a Jason Pominville goal, Boston struck again and Buffalo still had a three-goal deficit that they somehow had to erase.
After a dismal start, Buffalo looked like a different team in the latter half of the game, as they scored three straight goals off the sticks of Jack Eichel, Benoit Pouliot, and Evander Kane to take the game to Overtime. Ryan O’Reilly netted an unassisted goal in sudden death to give Buffalo a win that very few saw coming.
3. Tuesday, March 6th 2018 vs. The Toronto Maple Leafs
Home games against Toronto always draw great crowds of Leafs fans; in the middle of a season where Toronto is one of the league’s best, and Buffalo is anything but, KeyBank Center was bound to feel like it was nestled within downtown Toronto.
In a furious effort to defend home turf and those Sabres faithful who made it to the arena that night, the boys in blue and gold came out firing.
Sam Reinhart and Jason Pominville scored goals before four minutes had been played, leaving Toronto stunned before the Leafs commenced a comeback. They evened the score in the second period, but it wasn’t long before Buffalo stifled their rally. The Sabres scored the next three goals on the sticks of Zemgus Girgensons, Ryan O’Reilly, and Johan Larsson–an effort that was ultimately enough to protect the honor of Buffalo’s home arena.
2. Saturday, March 17th 2018 vs. The Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane has always drawn many Blackhawks fans to KeyBank Center when the Sabres host Chicago. That often made Buffalo’s 12-game losing streak against Chicago even harder to swallow than it already was.
On March 17th, 2018, Buffalo finally slayed that Midwestern dragon during a matinee contest. Chicago didn’t make it easy, as the two teams battled back and forth exchanging goals for most of the game.
An unexpected hero emerged for the Sabres in the third period, as Nicholas Baptiste’s pair of goals vaulted Buffalo into the lead, which they never relinquished. The hearty effort from the 22-year-old gave the Sabres a key victory on the season, and helped end the demoralizing nine-year drought against Chicago.
1. Saturday, March 31st 2018 @ The Nashville Predators
If there was any game out of 82 where the Buffalo Sabres looked like a true, passionate team, it was this. Against the Predators, the #1 team in the entire NHL, on the road inside the Bridgestone Arena, where Preds fans are as boisterous as they come, the Sabres faced just as much adversity as one would expect.
After surrendering an early lead and falling down 3-1, Buffalo battled back to tie the game, only to then allow Nashville to jump ahead once again. When Scott Hartnell leveled Victor Antipin against the boards, leaving Antipin motionless on the ice for a duration and having to be carted off, it galvanized the Sabres to play with a kind of pride that had rarely been seen previously in the season.
Buffalo assailed Nashville on the ensuing 5-minute major power play, scoring three times to take a firm lead. A seventh tally–which earned Sam Reinhart a hat trick–came later in the night, cementing a game where the Sabres played their hearts out to defend the honor of their teammate.